Whenever I find myself under attack by a wildly superior player, I
stop trying to duck and avoid their fire. Instead, I turn around and
run straight at them. I know that by doing so, I'm only making it
easier for them to shoot me — and thus I'm marching straight into the
jaws of death. Indeed, I can usually see my health meter rapidly
shrinking to zero.
But at the last second, before I die, I'll whip out a sticky plasma
grenade — and throw it at them. Because I've run up so close, I almost
always hit my opponent successfully. I'll die — but he'll die too, a
few seconds later when the grenade goes off. (When you pull off the
trick, the game pops up a little dialog box noting that you killed
someone "from beyond the grave.")
It was after pulling this maneuver a couple of dozen times that it
suddenly hit me: I had, quite unconsciously, adopted the tactics of a
suicide bomber — or a kamikaze pilot.
It's not just that I'm willing to sacrifice my life to kill someone
else. It's that I'm exploiting the psychology of asymmetrical warfare.
Because after all, the really elite Halo players don't want
to die. If they die too often, they won't win the round, and if they
don't win the round, they won't advance up the Xbox Live rankings. And
for the elite players, it's all about bragging rights.
I, however, have a completely different psychology. I know I'm the underdog; I know I'm probably going to get killed anyway. I am never going to advance up the Halo 3 rankings, because in the political economy of Halo, I'm poor.
Specifically, I'm poor in time. The best players have
dozens of free hours a week to hone their talents, and I don't have
that luxury. This changes the relative meaning of death for the two of
us. For me, dying will not penalize me in the way it penalizes them,
because I have almost no chance of improving my state. I might as well
take people down with me.
Or to put it another way: The structure of Xbox Live creates a world
composed of two classes — haves and have-nots. And, just as in the
real world, some of the disgruntled have-nots are all too willing to
toss their lives away — just for the satisfaction of momentarily
halting the progress of the haves. Since the game instantly resurrects
me, I have no real dread of death in Halo 3.
But before you get all outraged..
I do not mean, of course, to trivialize the ghastly, horrific impact
of real-life suicide bombing. Nor do I mean to gloss over the
incredible complexity of the real-life personal, geopolitical and
spiritual reasons why suicide bombers are willing to kill themselves.
These are all impossibly more nuanced and perverse than what's
happening inside a trifling, low-stakes videogame.
But the fact remains that something quite interesting happened to me because of Halo.
Even though I've read scores of articles, white papers and books on the
psychology of terrorists in recent years, and even though I have (I
think) a strong intellectual grasp of the roots of suicide terrorism,
something about playing the game gave me an "aha" moment that I'd never
had before: an ability to feel, in whatever tiny fashion, the strategic logic and emotional calculus behind the act.
I get what he is talking about. Do you?